More than 100 horses seized in Australian welfare operation

One of the horses seized in the operation. Photo: RSPCA Victoria
One of the horses seized in the operation. Photo: RSPCA Victoria

More than 100 horses have been seized from a property over welfare concerns in the Australian state of Victoria.

RSPCA Victoria says it is the largest horse operation in its history, which will likely cost $A250,000 to complete.

It is working with four of Victoria’s best horse rescue organisations in what it says is the enormous task of treating, rehabilitating, feeding and rehoming the animals, which it describes as malnourished and distressed.

The horses and ponies were seized on Thursday from a property in the state’s west, during the worst summer for horse welfare concerns in recent history, it said.

The seizure was authorised by ministerial order under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.

It came just two weeks after the RSPCA seized 13 horses in very poor condition and at imminent risk of collapse from the same property.

RSPCA Victoria says the support of four horse welfare groups – The Winged Horse Equine Welfare Inc, Horse Shepherd Equine Sanctuary, Project Hope and Horses at Auction Preview – together with a raft of specialist equine vets and experienced stockmen, had been crucial to the operation.

It says all of the horses seized require intensive veterinary care and a careful feeding program if they are to have any chance of being restored to good condition.

Few have ever been handled. Some of the mares are pregnant, it says, and there are some young foals at foot among the seized animals.

Only a few of the stallions and colts appear to have been gelded.

Many of the horses are said to be very underweight, exhibiting signs of malnutrition – including muscle wasting, protruding hip bones and visible ribs and spines – and a majority appear to be burdened by worms and parasites.

RSPCA Victoria said the summer had seen one of the biggest spikes in horse welfare concerns in its 145-year history.

It put the increase down to drought conditions and rising feed costs, and said it was receiving reports of horses in poor condition almost daily.

“There are three main issues that inspectors generally find when responding to reports of underweight horses: insufficient feed quality and quantity, lack of parasite control, and lack of dental care,” says RSPCA Victoria inspector Lisa Calleja.

“Any horse in poor body condition needs a vet to help owners work through the cause and treat appropriately.

“Whatever the weather or economic conditions, owners are directly responsible for ensuring that every animal in their care has the food, water, shelter and medical care they need to keep them safe and healthy.

“We strongly advise anyone who is concerned about the welfare of an animal in their care to seek advice from a vet quickly, and to destock if they are concerned about their capacity to provide good quality care.”

The ministerial order provided the RSPCA with the authority to enter the property and immediately seize the horses, transport them to safety, make arrangements for their immediate treatment and rehabilitation, and ultimately rehome as many animals as possible.

Some of the worst-affected horses have been taken directly to a specialist equine hospital for treatment. Others have been transported to a safe location so their health and behaviour can be assessed, and they can receive veterinary care and be placed on careful feeding plans to regain condition.

“Sadly, despite our best efforts, some of these horses may not survive the first month,” Calleja says.

“Others may never be able to be rehabilitated or treated to the point where new homes can be found for them, and will have to be homed at a sanctuary or welfare organisation.

“This is a huge, and hugely expensive, operation,” Calleja says.

RSPCA Victoria and the horse welfare groups involved are calling on the community to help meet the cost of rescuing, treating, feeding and rehabilitating these horses to give them the second chance of a life that they deserve.

Every horse now in the RSPCA’s care needs urgent medical attention such as treatment for parasites, vaccinations, drenching and dental treatment. They also require individual specialised feed plans, food and water, shelter, handling equipment and shoeing.

Monetary donations received by RSPCA Victoria will be allocated to a specific fund that will be drawn upon by all of the groups involved, to do the best that can possibly be done for the horses.

Helping just one horse during the first 30 days will cost at least $A2500 and, for the mares that are pregnant and those with young foals, the cost will be even higher.

Overall, the RSPCA estimates that this operation will cost more than $AS250,000.

The charity says if it raises more than it needs for this operation, any remaining funds will be put to use to support the hundreds of other horses across Victoria that need its help each year.

RSPCA Victoria chief executive Dr Liz Walker urged horse owners across the state to plan in the face of dry and severe weather conditions.

“We are now working with our shelters and horse welfare partner organisations who assisted with this operation to treat, rehabilitate, feed and home these 100-plus horses,” she said.

She said the charity was relying on the kind donations of the public to make this achievable.

People can donate to the cause here.

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